Brazilian journalist convicted of criminal defamation for environmental reporting

A Salvador court sentenced Brazilian journalist Aguirre Talento to six months and six days in jail for criminal defamation on October 31, 2016, reduced to community service and a fine, according to the journalist and his lawyer. The case was the second of three separate defamation cases filed the same day over a 2010 story written by Talento and published in the newspaper, A Tarde, in the northeastern state of Bahia, according to reports.

The story focused on a construction company that was investigated for environmental crimes. Talento erroneously wrote that the Public Prosecutor’s Office had called for businessmen running the company to be arrested when it had only asked for them to be charged, according to Talento and news reports.

The judge said Talento “compromised the honor” of the three plaintiffs, according to court documents emailed to CPJ by Talento, who now works for the newsmagazine Isto É in the capital Brasilia.

The owner and two directors of Patrimonial Saraíba, one of the companies mentioned in the 2010 report, took Talento to court in three separate actions all filed the same day in June 2011, his lawyer Edil Muniz Junior told CPJ.

Talento told CPJ that he contacted the company directors to request comment before the article was published, but they declined. He said they did not ask for a correction to be published.

Talento was found guilty in the first case in April 2014 and sentenced to six months and six days in prison, reduced to community service, as is common in cases that do not involve long jail sentences or violent conduct. He was also fined 8,880 reais (about US$2,760).

The same judge presided in the second case at the October 31 hearing, Talento told CPJ. That case was heard the day before the statute of limitations ran out.

The third case is unlikely to proceed because it was filed after the statute of limitations closed on November 1, Talento said

Talento’s lawyer said the journalist has appealed both sentences and said he believed there were procedural errors in the second case.

The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalists called the first sentence handed down to Talento “an attack on freedom of expression” and it condemned the October 31 decision, saying it was designed to “impose a punishment on the reporter and not seek damages for any potential harm caused.”

CPJ has urged authorities in Brazil to review the country’s criminal defamation and privacy laws. In 2012 the United Nations urged member states to ensure that defamation is a civil and not a criminal action.

For a comparative study of criminal defamation laws in the Americas, see CPJ’s campaign, Critics Are Not Criminals.